From refugee camp to World Cup, Davies sees meteoric rise
Alphonso Davies' unlikely path to spearheading Canada's first World Cup campaign in nearly four decades began in a West African refugee camp where children's dreams are eclipsed by the need to survive.
Davies, a left back at Bayern Munich, was born in the Ghanaian refugee camp of Buduburam to Liberian parents who fled civil war in their country.
His family emigrated to Canada when he was five, the age at which many Canadian children put on skates and handle a hockey stick for the first time.
The former refugee, now 22, has raised Canadian men's soccer to new heights, becoming the youngest player to feature for the senior national team as a 16-year-old and the first Canadian to win the men's Champions League Final.
The meteoric rise of Davies, who has pledged to donate his World Cup earnings to charity, began at an elementary school in snowy Edmonton.
Teachers noticed his exuberance, natural athleticism and precocious skill level and entered him in an after-school soccer league for inner-city children.
"Once I started playing organised soccer, parents, coaches and other team mates were telling me to keep going and that I could become something so I started believing it," Davies was quoted as saying on the Bundesliga website. "That's what started me wanting to become a professional."
'TO DARE AND TO DO'
Davies was a prodigy. At 14, he enrolled in the residency program of Major League Soccer's Vancouver Whitecaps and soon began making regular appearances for the senior team.
Davies joined Bayern for US$22 million in 2018, a record transfer fee for an MLS player, with his ear-to-ear grin and effervescent style on the pitch making him a fan favourite.
In 2020, he became the first North American player to be voted onto the FIFPRO World XI by his peers.
"I think he has experienced a lot in his life, which enables him to have a threshold greater than most people to dare and to do and to bring his identity," Canada manager John Herdman said when Davies moved to Germany.
"He just plays with that smile on his face. He gets kicked on the field, he just gets back up. There's no theatrics, no rolling around."
Davies' brilliance was undeniable in Canada's emphatic 4-1 win over Panama in World Cup qualifying.
In a move viewed hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube, Davies made an 80-yard run down the wing, balletically keeping the ball in touch, outsmarting a defender and finishing with a low strike to give Canada the lead.
"Alphonso's goal was in essence a story of his life," one user wrote in the comments under the clip. "Hard work, perseverance, dedication and never giving up."
Canada at the World Cup.
Following is a statbox on Canada
FIFA Ranking: 41
Canada have appeared in only one World Cup, in 1986, having failed to qualify for other editions of the tournament. They lost their group stage matches against France, Hungary and the Soviet Union and failed to score a goal.
How they qualified
After a 36-year drought, Canada reached the World Cup for the second time with an emphatic 4-0 win over Jamaica on a frigid March afternoon in Toronto. They were the first CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football) country to book a spot in the 2022 finals.
After securing qualification, Canada were embroiled in a labour dispute with the national governing body. Players boycotted a friendly against Panama in June in Vancouver over a disagreement about World Cup prize money, among other issues. Their friendly against Panama was scheduled to replace one with Iran, which was called off by Canada Soccer over widespread opposition from politicians and the families of the Canadians who died aboard a Ukrainian passenger plane shot down near Tehran in January 2020 by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.